Sunday, August 19, 2012

O'lena Christina Mortensen

O’Lena Christina Mortensen was born 25 February 1864 in Parowan, Utah. She was the fourth child born to Anders Jorgen and Christine Andersen Mortensen who had traveled to Utah from Denmark in the Willie Handcart Company. The family had 11 children, 10 of who lived to adulthood.

(O’Lena’s middle name, Christina, is after her mother, but spelled with an “a” at the end. In Danish, Christine sounds like Christina, so her parents wanted to spell her middle name the way it sounded in English.)

O’Lena was baptized on 22 June 1873.

Lena grew up in Parowan. She attended school which was taught by Mary Ann Barker. One day, a group of children were playing “Ring Around the Rosy” and she was invited to play by a schoolmate who broke the circle to take her hand. It was the first time that Willie Morris had noticed her. They were good friends from then on.

O’Lena grew to be a sober, caring girl. At the age of 16, she went through the temple for her endowments. As a young woman, she enrolled in a class taught by a French tailor and she became an expert seamstress. She did not finish the class because, as her daughter Cora put it, “he became too friendly toward her.” O’Lena had purchased the Norman Chart from the class and was able to make patterns to fit any shape or size.

Her friendship with William developed and they were married in the St. George Temple on 24 March 1882. William was 20 and she was 18 years old.


The couple had their first 2 children, bother boys, while living in Parowan. Their names were William T. Jr. (1883) and Anders Marion (1885).

In April 1884, Lena’s married brothers and their families were called by the Prophet to help establish the pioneer settlements in the San Luis Valley in Colorado. Near New Mexico’s border, the valley is a windswept high mountain plain with sunny, hot summers and frigid winters. That October, Lena’s father Anders suddenly died living two widows and 10 young children. The families sold their property and went to live with the older boys in Colorado.

After almost 2 years, Will and Lena decided to join the others in Colorado, so they too sold their property and moved.

When they arrived at the LaJara railroad station, Will said that Lena was not impressed with the country and would have returned to Utah if they had enough money. They didn’t, so they stayed and tried to make the best of it.

One of the first things Lena did was hang lace curtains. She loved beautiful things and tried to surround herself with beautiful things. In fact, at first the neighbors labeled them “aristocratic” and were nervous to make friends, but soon found that the Morris family to be genuine and sincere. A great circle of friends began to form.
Lena used her skills as a seamstress by making the valley’s first American flag. She also made ice cream and shared it with her friends, many of which had not ever tasted the new delicacy.

Morris home in Sanford, CO. Housed nine.
Sanford Church built by the members in the San Luis Valley.
Another thing that the family introduced to the area was the May Day celebration, Maypole and all. Although the country was uninviting, the associations were priceless.

Five more children were born to Will and Lena while they lived in Colorado: Lena Isabella, known as Isa (1888), Cora May (1890), Earl Raymond (1893), Una Millicent (1896) and Alfred Serenus (1899).

Anders was not well since the family left Utah and in 1895, he became ill with pneumonia. Just a few weeks after he turned 10, Anders died and was buried in Sanford, CO.

Early in 1900, the family experienced another shock when Will suffered a severe heart attack. He was told that he needed to live in a better climate. The family was grateful that he was alive. He and teenage Isa took a train back to Utah and Lena stayed behind to sell their home and belongings in order to get enough money for the rest of the family to travel to Utah. The family was reunited in October 1900.

Their last child, Angus was born in Parowan in 1903.

Morris family in 1903.
Rear: Will, Jr., Cora, Earl, Isabelle.
Front: Father Will, Una, Alfred, Angus, and O'Lena.
(Anders had passed away 8 years earlier.)

In 1904, the family bought over 100 acres of land which Will and the boys farmed. They named it “Blue Bell Farm.” It was the first farm to be registered in the state of Utah (after it became a state). Lena and the girls kept the house and helped with chores on the farm. One of the first things Lena did was plant a flower garden in front of the house. They also kept dairy cows and soon Lena became famous for her “Blue Bell Butter” which was wrapped in crisp blue and white butter paper. She had more customers than she could supply.

Lena, 1904, with milk cow. Cora's bonnet shows and Will is holding Angus behind the cow.

Lena loved to garden and took pride and comfort in her flower garden.

Will and Lena in 1907. Ages 46 and 43.
Lena served in many different callings in the church. She was particularly good with children and spent much of her church service with the Sunday School (what we would now call Primary).

In August of 1912, Will and Lena’s son Earl was working at the sawmill in the mountains above Parowan. When he was felling a tree, it unexpectedly turned and struck a dead tree next to it. The dead tree fell and crushed Earl beneath it. Workers rushed to tell his parents, but Earl died at the mill. He was only 19 years old. Will and Lena met the wagon bringing his body down the canyon. Lena was told that Earl had been calling for her as he died. This was something that she never got over.

Lena's hair was almost completely white 3 years after Earl's death.
Christmas was always special to the Morris family. Lena grew with Danish traditions and Will with English traditions. The family got the best of both worlds. It was a time for family and Blue Bell Farm was the gathering place and many families would stay overnight for several days.

One Christmas was particularly cold. Will brought several baby lambs inside to keep them from freezing. Grandma Lena was going from room to room making sure everyone was comfortable and ready for bed. One room was filled with excited, giggling girls and one little lamb. Grandma Lena spoke gently to each child in the room and was about to leave with the lamb bleated. As she walked out the door she murmured, “Good night, dear. Go to sleep now.” The room was not quiet again for some time.

The winter of 1919 was very cold. In fact, two feet of snow had fallen early in the year and did not completely melt until late spring. That was the year of the flu epidemic. Lena caught the disease and became very ill. One morning, after Will have been out all night caring for the animals, Lena voiced her concerns about Will wearing himself out. She had never wanted to sell the farm until then. They sold the farm for $24,800.

They used some of the money to visit friends and relatives in the San Luis Valley and then stayed with relatives in Mesa from November 1920 to May 1921. Angus was the only child at home and this point and he went to high school in Mesa that year. In the warm climate, Lena’s health improved. Illness and sorrow, however, robbed Lena of her singing voice.

Back in Parowan, the couple was looking forward retirement. On August 24, 1921, Bishop Hugh L. Adams asked them to serve a mission in the St. George Temple. They accepted and began work there five days later.

In the Autumn, Lena caught a cold which turned into pneumonia. By the first of 1922, she was responding to the doctor’s treatments and the pneumonia was almost gone. But in the end, her heart failed and she passed away on 4 February 1922, three week before her 58th birthday.

Will wrote, “She had been everything that a good and faithful devoted wife could be to a man…very patient and charitable towards my many faults and generous in her praise for my good deeds and efforts, full of hope and encouragement when things looked dark…God bless her memory."
Click HERE to see Lena's gravestone on Find A Grave.

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